Monday, June 27, 2011

The IRS Is Selling a Super Bowl Ring

I am a huge NFL fan. It is, without a doubt, my favorite sport.

Did you hear about Fuzzy Thurston’s tax problems?

Who is Fuzzy? His actual name is Fred Thurston. He played with the Green Packers from 1959 to 1967. He played guard in the first two Super Bowls under Vince Lombardi.

He was considered a tough football player and part of the famed “Power Sweep.” When asked how he prepared for the bitter cold of the Ice Bowl on December 31, 1966 at Lambeau Field against the Dallas Cowboys, he replied “About 10 vodkas.”

After football he became a restaurateur. He and partners, including Max McGee, opened a restaurant named Left Guard in Menasha, Wisconsin and eventually had six locations throughout Wisconsin. Fuzzy played left guard – hence the name of the restaurant.

The trouble arose with employment taxes. Somewhere between 1978 and 1980 the Janesville restaurant failed to remit payroll taxes withheld from employees. We have spoken of withholding before. These penalties are some of the toughest in the IRS arsenal. It makes sense, if you remember that these are withheld taxes. The money belongs to the employees, and the employer is merely a conduit for remittance to the Treasury. When the employer fails to remit, it not only deprives the Treasury but it has also robbed from its employees.

So Fuzzy had a withholding problem. The tax action goes against the company and the responsible persons at the company. As a partner, Fuzzy must have had enough authority to be considered a responsible person. So were his partners. His partners paid-off their actions, but Fuzzy fought his. The initial judgment against him in 1984 was approximately $190,000.

Fuzzy continued to fight. His liability, with interest and penalties for more than 25 years, is a little more than $1.7 million. The IRS is selling off his football paraphernalia, including his 1960 Packers helmet, two 1960 footballs signed by Packers players and Vince Lombardi, his NFL championship rings from 1958, 1961, 1962 and 1965,  and Fuzzy’s Super Bowl II ring. The IRS is searching for his Super Bowl I ring also, but it hasn’t turned up.

It’s an unfortunate story, but I have to point out that Fuzzy either dug in his heels unreasonably or otherwise received horrendous tax advice. Perhaps he felt that his partners stole from him and that he wasn’t responsible. Fine, but a quick education from his accountant might have included the concept of surrogate liability, and that as a partner in the restaurant he had triggered that liability. At that point it was not a matter of right or wrong, but rather a matter of emergency room decision-making. Stop the bleed, clot the wound, stabilize the patient, live to fight another day. I have to believe he could have come up with $190,000 in 1984. He could then have sued his partners, if it made him feel better. But he was not going to win the responsible person action against him with the IRS.

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